Interpretation

Adorno and repudiation

Theodor Adorno, for instance, argues that Kafka's parables signify not "through expression but its repudiation";

[Ziarek 177]



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Allegory and Fetish

Yet another step in the progression from the Optical Flaneur to the tactile collector. Is the Allegorist between these two, associated with commodity somehow between optical and tactile? Or is the Allegorist further down the chain?

The commodity is "broken down matter." The collector's matter becomes broken down and commodified in the process of allegorization - it becomes simply a cog in a system of interpretative associations.

Allegory and the fetish character of the commodity



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Auratic and Non-Auratic Art

In their pretense to organicism, hermeticism, and finally to wisdom, the parables share, in other words, certain properties with auratic art. Yet they remain at the same time resolutely non-auratic, they distinguish themselves in their essential hollowness from works founded upon the symbol Kafka's parables attain their simultaneous beauty and misery from the persistent sense that they had to be more than parables.

[Jennings 46]



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Benjamin (re)produces these gestures through the act of citation

If Kafka's parables and stories reduce events to gestures, Benjamin (re)produces these gestures through the act of citation. Very little of his text can be considered "original," for, as I have mentioned, it is largely composed of quotes and excerpts taken from a wide range of materials. "Kafka" can be understood as a preparatory document for what Benjamin considered his ideal book, namely one made up only of quotes.

[Oksiloff 191]



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Benjamin's letter as the inaugural moment

Despite Benjamin's disavowal, Holocaust literature has conferred upon Kafka a prophetic power, and we may assign Benjamin's letter as the inaugural moment in the association of Kafka wth the prophetic and apocalyptic that obtained through the course of the century.

[Samolsky 173]



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Containing its own exegesis - or not.

Not just "evasion" - Subversion. Elimination. Destruction.

Or if not "destruction," at least "decay"

[that exegesis is a stratagem for the evasion of exegesis]



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Dialectics and Narrativity

I associate the "progression" the Benjamin rejects in favor of the image/D@aS with traditional "narrative." But this is messy. Perhaps I only intend it to be an "allegorical association."

"What has been comes together in a flash with the now to form a contellation" - These do not "map" so nicely. But the central idea, the "flash" of a frozen image that would otherwise (but is never) be in movement - the standstill. The interpretive concept of N@aS is itself a gesture.

[image is dialectics at a standstill]



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His starting point is the parable

His starting point is the parable, which is responsible to reason and therefore, as far as its wording is concerned, cannot be entirely serious. But this parable is then subject to artistic elaboration. It grows into a novel. It was never quite transparent. ... In Kafka, therefore, parable is in conflict with vision. But as a visionary, Brecht says, Kafka saw what was to come without seeing what is. ... Kafka, he says, had only one problem, that of organization.

[Reflections 205]



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If one says that he perceived what was to come

If one says that he perceived what was to come without perceiving what exists in the present, one should add that he perceived it essentially as an individual is affected by it

[Illuminations 143]



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In the forest

In the forest there are various kinds of tree trunks. From the thickest, beams for ships are cut; from less thick buyt still respectable trunks, box lids and coffin sides are made; the very thin ones are used for rods; but nothing comes of the stunted ones--they escape the pains of usefulness. "In what Kafka wrote you have to look around as in such a forest. You will then find a number of very useful things. The images are good. But the rest is obscurantism. It is sheer mischief. You have to ignore it. Depth takes you no further. Depth is a dimension of its own, just depth--which is why nothing comes to light in it."

[Benjamin on Brecht, Reflections 207-208]



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Kafka's entire work constitutes a code of gestures

...Kafka's entire work constitutes a code of gestures which surely had no definite symbolic meaning for the author from the outset; rather, the author tried to derive such meaning form then in ever-changing contexts and experimental groupings. The theater is the logical place for such groupings.

[Illuminations 120]



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Method of This Website: Not Quite Literary Montage

Method of this [website]: [not quite] literary montage. I [have to say something - academic discourse requires it].. Merely show. I shall purloin no valuables, appropriate no ingenious formulations.[except, of course, that it is unavoidable - that is the nature of quotation, Benjamin is fooling himself if he really thinks otherwise] But the rags, the refuse--these I will [have inventoried, yet] allow, in the only way possible, to come into their own: by making use of them.

[Method of this project: literary montage]



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Method of this project: literary montage

Method of this project: literary montage. I needn't say anything.. Merely show. I shall purloin no valuables, appropriate no ingenious formulations. But the rags, the refuse--these I will not inventory but allow, in the only way possible, to come into their own: by making use of them.

[Arcades Project 460]



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On "The Pit of Babel"

This parable seems to be the most potent for my purposes - but it seems as though it is because it is the most meaningless. The meanings of it are difficult to figure out. Any reading I make of it - such as the "postmodern" one of pursuing multiple meanings that seems to be the most obvious to me - seems to reduce it to less than it should be.

[The Pit of Babel]



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Some notes on reading N@aS

Generally speaking, a reader will want to "read" this site by beginning with the "Exposes" - which are narrative (or more narrative than the rest) essays describing my arguments regarding Benjamin and Kafka. Otherwise, you might consider starting with one of the various Sources, leading you to a quotation, which should lead you to some commentary, and then either back to another quote, or to a "Convolute" containing similarly themed quotations and commentaries. Ultimately, these fragments may lead the reader to the "Exposes," though perhaps not necessarily.



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The Flaneur and the Marketplace

In the flaneur, the intelligentsia sets foot in the marketplace--ostensibly to look around, but in truth to find a buyer.

[Arcades Project 10]



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The Limits of N@aS

Theorizing this similarity is an exercise I leave to the reader or at least to a future time. Theories of the Archive, of Montage, of Mechanization, and of Hyptertextuality all would seem to apply -- and all threaten to overtake the fragmentary discourse of Benjamin and Kafka I am trying to engage in. For now, it is simply a matter of scope.



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The concept of truth distinct and separate from the process of signification

Consequently, in Politzer's reading, skepticism about ordinary language remains in complicity with the affirmation of truth "inaccessible to ordinary verbalization." With the emphasis on the inaccessible transcendental or on the emptiness of traditional exemplary forms, this strain of Kafka criticism in fact perpetuates both the notion of linguistic skepticism and the concept of truth distinct and separate from the process of signification.

[Ziarek 178]



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The experience which corresponds to that of Kafka, the private individual

The experience which corresponds to that of Kafka, the private individual, will probably not become accessible to the masses until such time as they are being done away with.

[Illuminations 143]



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The law of his journey

Kafka, however, has found in the law of his journey--at least on one occasion he succeeded in bringing its breath-taking speed in line with the slow narrative pace that he presumably sought all his life. He expressed this in a little prose piece which is his most perfect creation not only because it is an interpretation.
The Truth About Sancho Panza

[Illuminations 139]



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The word "unfolding" has a double meaning

The word "unfolding" has a double meaning. A bud unfolds into a blossom, but the boat which one teachers children to make by folding paper unfolds into a flat sheet of paper. This second kind of "unfolding" is really appropriate to the parable; it is the reader's pleasure to smooth it out so that he has the meaning on the palm of his hand. Kafka's parables, however, unfold in the first sense, in the way a bud turns into a blossom. That is why their effect resembles poetry. This does not mean that his prose pieces belong entirely in the tradition of Western prose forms; they have, rather, a similar relationship to the doctrine as the Haggadah does to the Hakalah. They are not parables, and yet they do not want to be taken at their face value; they lend themselves to quotation and can be told for clairification. But do we have the doctrine which Kafka's parables interpret and which K's postures and the gestures of his animals clarify? It does not exist; all we can say is that here and there we have an allusion to it. Kafka might have said that these are relics transmitting the doctrine, although we could regard them just as well as precursors preparing the doctrine.

[Illuminations 122]



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a blotting pad to ink

My thinking is related to theology as a blotting pad is related to ink. It is saturated with it. Were one to go by the blotter, however, nothing of what is written would remain.

[Arcades Project 471]



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a failure of the original

Any translation which sets out to reproduce meaning in another language is bound to fail and this has to do with a failure of the original.

[Oksiloff 170]



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a performative power

Kafka's writings, as the self-referential parable of the leopard makes clear, are not merely constantive acts of narration, but hold a performative power. Like the leopards breaking into the temple and becoming part of the ceremonial ritual, Kafka's writing both provisionally program in advance their future reception, and then via the hidden mechanism of enforced retrospection, program that programming as inevitable and not provisional of contingent.

[Samolsky 188]



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a sense of responsibility and a sense of relie

Instead of truth, reading offers both a sense of responsibility and a sense of relief--reflief that comes, paradoxically, from a loss of a "preordained object."

[Ziarek 180-181]



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a series of "cross-illuminations."

Benjamin's Kafka criticism confronts this accepted mode of interpretation and suggests that the interactions between his texts and Kafka's can be understood in terms of a series of "cross-illuminations."

[Oksiloff 168]



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a series of shock-like occurrences

Benjamin reads Kafka's work as the representation of an experience constituted by a series of shock-like occurrences whose principles, origins, and effects at first remain opaque. In fact, the human agent in Kafka's world remains wholly unaware that is experience is thus constituted. Benjamin insists, in other words, that humans are at once inalterably shaped by the character of their experience and denied any awareness of it character as a series of shocks.

[Jennings 43]



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an ellipse with foci that are far apart and are determined

Kafka's work is an ellipse with foci that are far apart and are determined, on the one hand, by mystical experience (in particular, the experience of tradition) and, on the other, by the experience of the modern big-city dweller.

[Illuminations 141]



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he sacrificed truth for the sake of clinging to its transmissibility

Kafka's real genius was that he tried something entirely new: he sacrificed truth for the sake of clinging to its transmissibility, its haggadic element. Kafka's writings are by their nature parables. But it is their misery and their beauty that they had to become more than parables. They do not modestly lie at the feet of the doctrine, as the Haggadah lies at the feet of the Halakah. Though apparently reduced to submission, they unexpectedly raise a mighty paw against it.

[Illuminations 144]



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his parables are never exhausted by what is explainable

Kafka had a rare capacity for creating parables himself. Yet his parables are never exhausted by what is explainable; on the contrary, he too all conceivable precautions against the interpretation of his writings. One has to find one's way in them circumspectly, cautiously, and warily.

[Illuminations 124]



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life in the capitalist metropolis

Benjamin asserts that Kafka depicts in his works a particular kind of modern experience, that determined by life in the capitalist metropolis.

[Jennings 43]



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presaging his own interpretation

It would be nice to have time to engage in this Holocaust Debate - but not that nice. The utility of this insight is the "super-addition." For my purposes, not the Holocaust, but later methods of interpretation, get super-added to the parables. Their "More than Parables" is partially a result of the knowledge of the "vast body of interpretation" out there.

[this substitution of effect for cause]



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products of its decay

This is why, in regard to Kafka, we can no longer speak of wisdom. Only the products of its decay remain.

[Illuminations 144]



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that exegesis is a stratagem for the evasion of exegesis

Commenting on Kafka, Gershom Sholem once observed that, "In substantial portions of his writing there is a kind of canonicity, that is to say, there are open to infinite interpretation; and many of them, especially the most impressive of them, constitute in themselves acts of interpretation." Kafka's texts do indeed seem to contain their own exegesis, even if that exegesis is a stratagem for the evasion of exegesis or exegesis at least as foundational interpretation.

[Samolsky 178]



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the aura in the process of its decay

Of all the artists treated by Benjamin, Baudelaire and Kafka must occupy a unique position. All other stand on one side or another of the great divide between allegory and symbol; only Kafka and Baudelaire show the aura in the process of its decay. Kafka's parables are at once auratic and allegorical; they distinguish themselves by their unique ability to rehearse the process which hollowed them out.

[Jennings 47]



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the impossibility of finishing

The "tower of Babel" does not merely figure the irreducible multiplicity of tongues; it exhibits an incompletion, the impossibility of finishing, of totalizing, of saturating, of completing something on the order of edification, architectural construction, system and architectonics. What the multiplicity of idioms actually limits is not only a "true" translation, a transparent and adequate interexpression, it ais also a structural order, a coherence of construct. There is then (let us translate) something like an internal limit to formalization, an incompleteness of the structure.

[Derrida, quoted in Ziarek 195]



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the meaning lies in the unfolding itself

The flower's unfolding does not mark the end of a historical process confirmed thorough one truth. Rather, the meaning lies in the unfolding itself, in the constantly changing contours and folds which extend beyond the flower's "natural" life. Interpretation sets the text in motion by opening it up to possible readings instead of fixing it in respect to one tradition.

[Oksiloff 178]



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the true character of life as a series of inassimilable and utterly meaningless shocks

Judged against the intense unity of coherence of the mystical nu, the true character of life as a series of inassimilable and utterly meaningless shocks emerges in a way that effectively blocks its repression.

[Jennings 44]



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the void haunted by the penumbra of departed wisdom

Interpretation in it diversity attempts to fill the void haunted by the penumbra of departed wisdom; Kafrka criticism, with its seeming endless willingness to carry on the chain of mutually replaceable signified and signifiers, assures the ongoing emancipatory force of Kafka's work, as such substitutions are always only inadequate replacements for wisdom.

[Jennings 47]



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this substitution of effect for cause

Kafka's [leopard] parable functions by, or articulates, precisely this substitution of effect for cause: the ineluctable intrustion of the leopards into the temple is incorporated into the ritual as if by design. We might read this parable, I think, as Kafka's subtle commentary on the destiny of his own writing (or what would have been his own writing) in relation to future catastrophe. The Holocaust, like the leopard, gets super-added or intruded into his writing byt aht writing comeds to be seen as prefiguring precisely this intrusion, it is sutured into its structure, in a fusion of topos and text.

[Samolsky 183]



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two ways to miss the point of Kafka's works

There are two ways to miss the point of Kafka's works. One is to interpret them naturally, the other is the supernatural interpretation. Both the psychoanalytic and the theological interpretations equally miss the essential points.

[Illuminations 127]



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what writers say

Never trust what writers say about their own writings.

[Arcades Project 203]



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whether it is possible to build, write, interpret

This paralysis thematized in Kafka's text raises again a question whether it is possible to build, write, interpret when we already know "that the incomprehensible is incomprehensible" (PP, 11). Walter Benjamin argues, however, that this failure of the transcendental purpose is not an impasse but a liberating force in Kafka's prose...

[Ziarek 200]



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